Russia (MNN) ― Is Russian turning the clock backward as it relates to religious freedom? Russian Christians are uncertain what the demolition of the Holy Trinity Church will mean for the future of religious freedom in that nation.
According to Forum 18 News, the incident took place on September 6 just after midnight.
Paul Tokarchouk with Russian Ministries is in Moscow. He says police and civil volunteers "opened the gates and doors, got inside, and took all of the belongings -- some sound equipment and other things that are typically in the church. They just started to destroy walls, and step by step [the church was destroyed].
Tokarchouk says this demolition is making headlines around the country. "This is shaking Moscow, and it looks like it's spreading out across of Russia."
Mikhail Odintsov, an aide to Russia's Ombudsperson for Human Rights, told Forum 18 from Moscow on 6 September, "This is the Soviet approach: to come in the middle of the night with mechanical diggers. This is unacceptable."
According to Tokarchouk, church leaders are voicing their concerns to high ranking government officials.
This situation is a little complicated. Property rights aren't the same as they are in most western nations. Tokarchouk explains what it was like during the days of the Soviet Union. "We had no institution of property belonging to people because Moscow authorities had provided land for this church. [However,] seven years ago the government said, 'We have reason to take the lot from you,' and that's what they did."
Typically in a situation like this, the government provides an alternative lot in the same district. However, it doesn't look like this was done.
Odintsov added that members of Holy Trinity Church in Kosino-Ukhtomsky District in Moscow's Eastern Administrative District (Okrug) had already spoken to the Ombudsperson's Office by telephone earlier in the day and are expected to lodge a written appeal to Ombudsperson Vladimir Lukin about the church destruction.
Tokarchouk says Christians have faced persecution in some areas, "There is some marginalization toward evangelicals. If it's a big trend, this is really a concern."
Holy Trinity Church was established in 1979 by Serafim Marin, a Pentecostal who had spent 18 years in Soviet labor camps for his faith. It gained registration with the Soviet authorities as an autonomous Pentecostal community in the late 1970s. However, the city authorities forced it out of its first building in 1995. The replacement "temporary" church -- bulldozed today -- was built on the current site in 1995-96.
Officials consistently refused to legalise the building and prevented it from being linked to the water and electricity supply and sewerage. Holy Trinity's Pastor, Vasili Romanyuk, and the congregation have long battled to save their church from confiscation and destruction. "We put a lot of our resources into this building," he told Forum 18.
Tokarchouk says the church has faced persecution before. "In the midst of persecution, the church is growing. We'll be motivated to cooperate, to get stronger, to be solid for Christ's sake so the Gospel can be proclaimed in our country."
Will this prevent Russian Ministries from helping local churches? "Sometimes it will be hard, [but] we will still keep going to continue to help the church raise young generation leaders to proclaim the Gospel even in the midst of some restrictions."